The traps are there
smooth slippery sand
lurking in my stomping grounds
for that moment when
(tired, stressed, stumbling)
I forget to watch
down that slope
I let life take over
pushing hard to meet my goals
eyes distracted by the rocks
obstacles I could climb over
holding Your hand
I lose my focus
stop listening to the Voice
step over the line
my enemy just laughs
Those of us who grew up in dry, sandy territory know the ant lion (sometimes we called it a “doodlebug”) and its traps. In Côte d’Ivoire, as a child, when I would find some of these inverted cones sculpted into the dirt, I would crouch down and tickle the edges with a twig to see if there would be a response. Sure enough, as tiny ripples of sand slipped down toward the cone center, claws would reach out to grab the victim. Only there was none; this was a science experiment! But if I was lucky enough to catch a moment when some little black ant was wending its way across the area, looking for food, I would see it stumble at the fragile edge of the cone and slip sideways, just far enough for the claws to grab it. Now it was the food for the crafty ant lion.
Okay, so this creature doesn’t look like a lion! It is actually the larvae of an insect that looks like a dragonfly when full grown, but that spends the huge majority of its life in this little crablike form that feeds on passersby, usually ants. Ingenious traps! They are in full view from above but not to the little insect walking by:
“ . . . the ant lion larvae lies motionless at the bottom, waiting for its first victim. An ant or a small insect steps inside the rim of the pit and begins the fight for life. The steep sides make it hard to crawl out. The ant lion further confuses the process by flicking particles of sand or dirt onto the frantic insect, aiding its descent into the pit. At some point in the struggle, the insect falls into the bottom of the trap or is impaled by the ant lion’s piercing mandibles. The predator drags its prey deeper into the sand, where it sucks out its body fluids. The ant lion then calmly takes out the trash, flicking the carcass out of its pit, and awaits its next victim.”
When I was sitting in my “sacred grove” under the golden rain trees in my yard as an adult, I could watch the same thing happening. It became a picture of the various slippery traps our Enemy puts along our path. He thinks he knows how to get us to step unknowingly onto some empty promise or on the edge of a delectable temptation that leads to a fall. It may seem like a shortcut, an easier way forward. Or maybe we just forget to watch out and make a false step. Oh-oh!
It is no wonder that Jesus told us to pray that we would not be victims of our Enemy’s schemes. This is the last petition in the Lord’s Prayer:
And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from the evil one (Matt. 6:13 NIV)
This does not refer to the kind of testing that God uses to examine us and to hone us:
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. (1Thess 2:4 NIV)
For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. (1 Thess 2:4 NLT)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Jas. 1:2-4 NIV)
When he examines our motivations, and we listen to his findings, we can confess wrongdoing and stumbling and move on to greater maturity. And when we are walking with him, he uses rough paths to make us stronger. I see it like a kind of exercise program that makes us stronger and healthier.
In the Lord’s Prayer, the temptation referred to comes directly from the Evil One, our Enemy, Satan. The word used in the text can be translated either “evil” or “evil one,” but most commentators agree that it makes more sense to focus here on the Enemy who is contriving to undo us. This evil has the purpose of making us stumble off the path, and Satan will use whatever will distract us, attract us or get us to make a wrong choice so that he can keep us from lives that honor our Father, King of the Universe. His Kingdom is now among us, and we desperately want to stay on his good paths rather than slide into danger.
Since we cannot always trust our own discernment to recognize the traps set for us, we need to ask God to please rescue us before we get caught. The Good Shepherd will lead us to the right places for sustenance and for service, and will ward off the Enemy with his shepherding weapons (cf. Psalm 23). Dependence on him is our safeguard. I think of how we ask Google to warn us of traffic issues ahead as we drive, or of the way that navigators on the ocean depend on warnings of hazards. We know we cannot see everything with either our physical or spiritual eyes. We need help from the One who sees and knows everything, and loves us.
I love the way John Stott summarizes the three types of requests that Jesus included in this model prayer:
“Thus the three petitions which Jesus puts upon our lips are beautifully comprehensive. They cover, in principle, all our human need—material (daily bread), spiritual (forgiveness of sins) and moral (deliverance from evil). What we are doing whenever we pray this prayer is to express our dependence upon God in every area of our human life.”
Following our Shepherd’s teaching, let’s consciously depend on him for guidance every single day. We need to have hearts ready to listen, and trust that what the Shepherd says is the best counsel ever, protecting us from slipping into the Enemy’s traps!
 Theresa Duncan, “Doodlebug Death Traps: A Closer Look At The Infamous Ant Lion.” (Montana Public Radio, August 7, 2019). https://www.mtpr.org/arts-culture/2019-08-07/doodlebug-death-traps-a-closer-look-at-the-infamous-ant-lion
 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 150–151